Series Preview: Warriors vs. Cavaliers

The Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers will meet in the NBA Finals once again, marking the first time in NBA history the same two teams will meet in the Finals in three consecutive years. The Warriors (12-0) and Cavs (12-1) enter the final round of the playoffs with just a single loss between them – the fewest ever under the current 16-team format – and have combined to outscore opponents by 14.9 PPG this postseason, the largest margin entering the Finals ever.

REGULAR SEASON SERIES
The two previous NBA Champions faced each other twice in the regular season, with each side prevailing on their own home court.

12/25/16 at Cleveland: Cavaliers 109, Warriors 108

Kevin Durant led all players with 36 points and 15 rebounds, but Kyrie Irving converted a go-ahead jumper with 3.4 seconds left for the deciding score as the Cavaliers narrowly defeated the Warriors in the marquee matchup of the league’s Christmas Day slate. Game Recap

1/16/17 at Golden State: Warriors 126, Cavaliers 91

Golden State led by 15 at the end of the first quarter and 29 points at halftime before dealing the Cavaliers their worst margin of defeat this season. Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry all topped the 20-point plateau, and Draymond Green recorded a triple-double with 11 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists to go along with five blocks. Game Recap

MATCHUP AT A GLANCE
Regular Season Ranks in Parenthesis

GSW
67-15
1st in West
115.9 PPG (1st)
44.4 RPG (7th)
30.4 APG (1st)

CLE

51-31
2nd in East
110.3 PPG (4th)
43.7 RPG (T-12th)
22.7 APG (13th)

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PROJECTED STARTERS

GSW: Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green and Zaza Pachulia

CLE: Kyrie Irving, J.R. Smith, LeBron James, Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson

INJURY & ROSTER NOTES

GSW: None. Team Notes

CLE: Edy Tavares (right hand fracture) is out. Team Notes

CLEVELAND SCOUTING REPORT
The Warriors were the only team in the league with four All-Stars this season, but the Cavaliers were the only other team with at least three. LeBron James leads the Cavs back to the Finals for the third-straight year since his return to Cleveland, stretching his personal consecutive Finals streak to an astonishing seven-straight seasons. Kyrie Irving joins James in forming the highest-scoring duo in the playoffs with 67.0 combined points per game, while Kevin Love – Cleveland’s other All-Star – just averaged 22.6 points and 12.4 rebounds per game in the Eastern Conference Finals. The Cavaliers rank first among all playoff teams in offensive efficiency, currently averaging 120.7 points per 100 possessions, and their 116.8 points per game are second to only Golden State. No team has made more three-pointers than the Cavs’ playoff average of 14.6 per game, and Cleveland also has the best three-point shooting percentage (.435) of any team in the postseason.

TEAM LEADERS

GSW
PTS: Curry (25.3)
REB: Durant (8.3)
AST: Green (7.0)

CLE

PTS: James (26.4)
REB: Love (11.1)
AST: James (8.7)

MATCHUP TO WATCH
It would be difficult to pack more star power into a playoff series than the Finals that are about to commence. At the point guard and small forward positions, there are four of the elite scorers in the entire world going against each other in LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Golden State’s Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry. That star power extends to the power forward position as well, where the matchup between Kevin Love and Draymond Green could be the decisive factor in what is expected to be a tightly contested series. Love is coming off arguably the best playoff series of his career in Cleveland’s 4-1 victory over the Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals, over the course of which he made 22 three-pointers on 53.5 percent shooting from beyond the arc. Love may encounter a tougher task when going up against Green, however, as the Defensive Player of the Year finalist has continued to hound opponents in the postseason and proved to be a barometer of sorts in the two regular season meetings between the Warriors and Cavaliers this year. In those two games, Golden State allowed an average of 87.4 points per 100 possessions when Green was on the court, compared to a defensive rating of 111.1 when he was off it. Whichever power forward is able to sustain his strong play into and through the Finals could very well tilt the series in his team’s favor.

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